Computer technology was one of the biggest– and lengthy-lasting – achievements of Apollo. From the solid-state microcomputer fitted to the lunar lander, to mighty IBM mainframes, with their flashing lights and banks of magnetic tape.
To navigate the Apollo spacecraft the quarter of one million or so miles to the Moon after which decrease to an exact spot on the surface, astronauts used the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC).
Housed in a box across the size of a small suitcase, with a separate display and input panel fitted to the main spacecraft console, it was a masterpiece of miniaturization.
Created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the AGC was full of thousands of built-in circuits, or silicon chips. Nasa’s order of this new technology led to the fast growth of Silicon Valley and stimulated the development of today’s computers.
Though the 74 KB ROM and 4 KB RAM reminiscence of the AGC sound puny right now – the equal of a 1980s home computer such because the Sinclair ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 – it was a powerful machine. Designed for the rigors of spaceflight, its software was hard-wired into coils and, crucially, it was planned so it couldn’t crash.
In the meantime on the ground within the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Nasa purchased five of the most recent IBM 360 computers to examine, in actual time, each side of the spacecraft’s speed, trajectory, and health. The system included provision for a standby computer in case one of them failed at a vital moment.